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It's showtime in federal court for 'Dance Moms' star Abby Lee Miller

| Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, 12:33 p.m.
Abigale 'Abby' Lee Miller, 50, formerly of Penn Hills, director and owner of Reign Dance Productions and star of the reality TV show, 'Dance Moms,' leaves the federal courthouse Downtown after pleading not guilty to bankruptcy fraud charges on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Abigale 'Abby' Lee Miller, 50, formerly of Penn Hills, director and owner of Reign Dance Productions and star of the reality TV show, 'Dance Moms,' leaves the federal courthouse Downtown after pleading not guilty to bankruptcy fraud charges on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015.

In the finale to Abby Lee Miller's bankruptcy fraud case, the “Dance Moms” star will do her best to avoid prison time.

Tune in Friday when Miller is scheduled to learn her punishment during a sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Miller is pleading for probation. Federal prosecutors contend U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti should give Miller 24 to 30 months in prison.

A Pittsburgh native, Miller in June pleaded guilty to concealing assets during her 2010 Chapter 11 bankruptcy hearing and failing to report bringing more than $10,000 into the country from Australia in 2014.

Miller remains free on a $10,000 unsecured bond.

Her Pittsburgh attorney, Robert Ridge, contends Miller got caught up in the spotlight of fame and made poor financial choices.

Now Miller is back on track, Ridge said.

“In addition to the consequences she is facing through this sentencing, Ms. Miller has suffered the consequence of a very public humiliation through obsessive media attention to these proceedings,” he wrote. “However, in the aftermath of her indictment, Ms. Miller has surrounded herself with professionals, including legal counsel, accountants, and other specialists to ensure that she will not recreate the circumstances that led to this sentencing.”

The government contends that numerous emails show Miller knew what she was doing, including a 2013 email to her accountant and business partner telling them not to put cash in her bank accounts or “raise any red flags.”

The subject line of the email: “LET'S MAKE MONEY AND KEEP ME OUT OF JAIL.”

Miller ignored numerous orders from the bankruptcy judge to report her income and, even after she was caught, came up with the scheme to bring in the money from the TV show's Australian tour without reporting it, prosecutors say.

“It is apparent that Miller is not easily deterred by threat of criminal prosecution, even standing before a federal judge,” the government says in its memorandum.

Before she faced criminal charges, Miller filed for bankruptcy in 2010 due to poor financial management of her business, which included a Penn Hills dance studio.

While she was still in bankruptcy, she became a reality TV star and started pulling in money from the shows and dance class events that her fame made possible. She didn't reveal that new income to the court.

Her bankruptcy involved about $356,000 in debts. Miller hid about $775,000 of income from her “Dance Moms” show as well as ticket and merchandise sales from her Master Class dance classes and other ventures, according to the indictment.

Miller's Chapter 11 voluntary bankruptcy reorganization plan would have allowed her to delay paying off her creditors for about five years without having to pay them interest, prosecutors say.

Federal bankruptcy Judge Thomas Agresti was ready to approve that plan until he came across her “Ultimate Dance Competition” while channel surfing. He also found ads for “The Maniac is Back” and her appearance on “American Idol.”

He ordered her to fully disclose her income and assets and come up with a new plan that would pay off her creditors immediately.

In a government sentencing memorandum, prosecutors cited a recovered email that Miller sent to her accountant on Feb. 15, 2013, after Agresti scolded her and demanded she repay her creditors fully and fast.

“Oh god I miss u,” the email says. “The judge was a d---! He hates me...I'm paying Everyone I owe 100% back in one big check! Who does that! Nobody in bankruptcy ! But he won't just say look I hate you and I don't want to see u again pay everybody and go! Now my Pgh atty are making Collins ave and the entertainment attorney jump through hoops.”

A federal grand jury indicted Miller in 2015 on 20 counts of bankruptcy fraud, alleging she concealed about $755,000 in assets and made false bankruptcy declarations. Prosecutors subsequently charged her with failing to report more than $10,000 of currency she brought into the country in 2014.

The money came from ticket and merchandise sales during a two-week tour of Australia in which she provided Master Class sessions. At the end of the tour, Miller divided about $120,000 to $150,000 into smaller bundles, put the money into plastic bags and had her instructors and other members of the group carry the money through customs so they wouldn't have to declare the income, Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Melucci said.

Once they reached the United States, the other members of the group handed the packages to Miller or left them in a desk drawer at her dance studio, he said.

Ben Schmitt and Brian Bowling are Tribune-Review staff writers. Reach them at bschmitt@tribweb.com and bbowling@tribweb.com.

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